Women's Health

Video that highlights the work of thousands of Tanzanians---mostly women---working as accredited community drug sellers operating in rural areas.Video that highlights the work of thousands of Tanzanians---mostly women---working as accredited community drug sellers operating in rural areas.

Today is International Women’s Day, celebrated around the world as an opportunity to look back on women’s accomplishments and look forward to the realization of their full economic, political, and social rights. The United Nations theme for this year, “Empowering Rural Women,” is one that resonates powerfully with MSH’s work.

A midwife in Wau, South Sudan. {Photo credit: MSH.}Photo credit: MSH.

Josephine, a wife and mother of six living in rural Uganda, tried to soothe her 3-year-old daughter. The girl was suffering from diarrhea and a high fever and her crying filled the home. Recognizing that the girl's health was in danger, Josephine summoned the courage to ask her husband for permission to take their second-youngest child to the local health facility unit -- and pleaded for money to cover the travel and treatment expenses.

Requesting permission from her husband to travel to the facility was not her only choice, however: choosing to take her daughter for treatment also meant leaving her other children -- including her youngest -- unattended at home. Once at the health center, she continued to navigate the challenging road to treatment for her daughter, communicating her situation to the health providers and negotiating the financial and provider aspects of the health center system, without assistance. Relieved and exhausted, Josephine returned home safely with her daughter, oral rehydration salts, and knowledge.

Recognizing women leaders

What makes a person in the health system a good leader? Who determines that he or she is a leader? How do we empower leaders to improve the health of those around them?

"Are family planning methods safe?” wondered Mutombo, a community health worker at the Kawama Village Health Center, in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Katanga Province. {Photo credit: MSH.}Photo credit: MSH.

Cross-posted on USAID's IMPACT blog.

“Don’t they contain a poison?” he added, directing his question to Isaac Chishesa, a community mobilization specialist with USAID’s Democratic Republic of Congo-Integrated Health Project (DRC-IHP).

Tough question! One Isaac was not expecting, at least not within a discussion among trained community health workers.

An experienced community health professional, Isaac responded with a smile and said, “Thank you, my friend, for sharing your concern,” affirming the participants’ right to ask questions. “Family planning methods are safe,” he reassured the group. “Based on international quality standards, each method is required to go through extensive testing before it is made available to the public.”

The faces of Mutombo and his peers lit up. They sighed, a collective sigh of relief, and burst out laughing to relieve some of the tension. They all recognized that even though they were dedicated to bringing about improvements in health behaviors, they, like most of their fellow community members, harbored misconceptions and rumors about family planning.

Norah Nakato (right) receiving care from Fausta Nalukwago, midwife at Mpigi Health Center IV in Uganda. {Photo credit: MSH}Photo credit: MSH

Norah, a 21-year-old teacher at a private school in Nansana, Uganda, did not know she was pregnant. Pain in her lower abdomen prompted her to go for a consultation at a private clinic in Nansana, where a urine test revealed the pregnancy. “I was shocked because I had last had my period on the 15th of that month,” Norah said.

At the clinic, Norah was given an antibiotic and a pain killer to relieve abdominal pain. Norah left the clinic excited about her pregnancy. But, two weeks later, the pain persisted and Norah began bleeding. Her mother advised her to go to Mpigi Health Center IV for an ultrasound.

At the health center, Norah saw a problem on the ultrasound screen. “The doctor showed me what was in my uterus and there was no baby," Norah said. "It was swollen with liquid and unclear substances. He said the substance had to be removed. I was very scared."

After counseling from the doctor, Norah was admitted and given medication to induce labor. When the contractions began, she was taken into surgery.

The doctor advised her to wait at least one and a half years before conceiving another child to allow time for her uterus to heal and the abnormal hormone levels to normalize.

Mildred Akinyi sitting by a family planning unit in Masafu sub-county, Uganda. Photo: MSH.

 

Post updated February 2, 2012.

Mildred Akinyi had abdominal pain for some time before she attended a reproductive health workshop for HIV positive couples at Masafu Hospital in Uganda in July 2011.

“I always felt pain in my abdomen, and would take a lot of panadols to ease the pain. I did not know what was wrong with me," Akinyi said. "When I heard from the case manager at Masafu hospital that STAR-E had organized for women living with HIV and their partners to be screened for cervical cancer and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), I could not wait to use that chance to get checked.”

Discovering MSH blog series graphicOver the next couple of months, as MSH celebrates it's 40th anniversary, reporter John Donnelly and photographer Dominic Chavez will be traveling to several countries to report on MSH’s work in the field. The stories will go into a book due out in the fall on MSH’s 40 years in global health. This blog entry is a post from the road, to give a flavor of their experiences with MSH staff.

Lucy Sakala at the Salima District Hospital in Salima, Malawi (© Dominic Chavez)

 

Women waiting for health services outside of Tambura PHCC, South Sudan.

 

Sitting under the lush mango trees in rural Tambura, South Sudan, I realized Mother’s Day was approaching and I needed to send my mom in Chicago a gift. More and more each year, I treasure my mom, who raised four children. But this year, while working on a health project in South Sudan, my appreciation and wonderment is also for mothers worldwide.

This is a guest blog post written by Derek Lee from Pathfinder International.

The donkey cart ambulances were built by local craftsman.

On October 15, 2010, dozens of Kenyan women in bright headscarves gathered beneath the acacia trees scattered outside Balambala sub-district hospital.  The area chief was in attendance, as were members of the local women’s livelihood groups.  Despite the oppressive heat, everyone was in jovial spirits because this sunny day marked a momentous occasion for their “Care for the Mother” project.

Over the course of the past ten days, I have been fortunate to visit the Central, Eastern, and Western Regions of Uganda.  As part of these visits, I have traveled through and spent time in many of the districts in these regions. It is during these drives through the countryside that I have noticed the campaigns for family planning services over and over again. Though it is possible my eye is fine tuned to notice these signs, as I am here supporting STRIDES for Family Health (a MSH-led, USAID funded family planning, reproductive health, and child and maternal health project), it would be hard for anyone to miss the cheerful rainbows that are posted on signs outside many of the health centers and hospitals indicating that family planning services are provided in that facility.

Signs promoting available family planning services in Uganda, March 2011.

 

Dr. Belkis Giorgis, MSH's Gender Expert 

One hundred years ago on March 8, a handful of countries celebrated the first International Women’s Day. Today it is celebrated around the world as an opportunity to look back on women’s accomplishments and look forward to the realization of their full economic, political, and social rights. The United Nations theme for International Women’s Day 2011 is centered on women’s access to education, technology, and decent work.

For 40 years, MSH has promoted equal access to health care for women by strengthening health systems and building the capacity of women as leaders and managers, technical experts, clinicians, and community health workers. We interviewed Dr. Belkis Giorgis, our NGO Capacity Building/Gender Advisor in Ethiopia about women and development.

Why is International Women’s Day important?

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